233 thoughts on “Is Facebook Beacon a Privacy Nightmare?”

  1. Your breakdown clearly shows the privacy problem and as a FB user I am most likely going to avoid going to the partner sites altogether rather than sit down and opt out of each.

    I am sure there are lots of people who don’t want their purchases or web visits revealed to anyone. The “Share” feature on FB allows me to share what I want already and gives me complete control, I will never hand over that control.

    I would much have preferred to see that the ad platform was only focused on the branded pages plus even better demographic targeting than offered by Facebook Flyers Pro.

  2. do you honestly think they designed an access control matrix for fifty million users across dozens of sites? no way.

    users won’t care at first until someone accidentally broadcasts to their social graph that they have been buying sex toys, viagra, or something else cheeky. then when it all stars leaking, the “WTF?!?!?!” phase will start and fb will throw out some patches to scan out “questionable” referrals, etc.

    in the end something will have to replace cookies. in the current model, users are forced to trust the black box they can’t look inside…even fb can’t look inside it for any particular user because there is just too much data.

  3. The truly amazing thing about FB is how much personal data users enter. (and I mean tech-savvy, sophisticated people). Age, gender, marital status, religion, location, etc. What are they thinking? FB will redefine the art of identity-theft, phishing, and the like. For the bads guys, this is a beautiful place.

    And regarding the so-called targeted ads (really socially engineered ads) Except for searching, I’d rather these types of passive ads be less targeted so when I buy stuff, I at least have a sense that I bought it for other than manipulated reasons. There’s enough of that pressure now.

  4. This is a major problem. it’s the quick money. Facebook could become the 21st century rolodex, its clean, “trustworthy”, organized and… easy.

    However, “trustworthy comes into question here, BIG TIME. To the point really where there is no grey area, Facebook is largely fed to the sharks for a flounder foray.

    That’s right, Om has got it down and that’s that.

    Facebook won’t be worth 1/15 of what people say it is when some does the same EXACT thing without this breach of privacy. And that’s what it is… when you sign up, the doted line doesn’t QUITE explain your susceptibility, perhaps deep in print, but there should really be a skull & cross bones like a smoking signal if you think giving out your identity is hazardous to your health.

    Just my 2 cents.


  5. A quote by Albert Einstein comes to mind: “In order to form an immaculate member of a flock of sheep one must, above all, be a sheep”

    Could someone (Craig Newmark, Jimmy Wales?) build an open social platform that is NOT a scheme to maximally exploit private information?

    While the scheme is the perfect solution to present billboards to a flock of sheep, I DO hope that intelligent individuals will not fall for this.

  6. This will probably be driven off the users email address, so a simple way around it is to use multiple email addresses.

  7. Now…what about Google? Is there a way to opt-out of their tracking systems? Put into the same bag:

    1. The millions of sites that use Google Analytics’ javascript tracking code, which sends information to Google about the browsing habits of a particular IP addresses. Compare this to Facebook’s 44 sites…you at the back, stop laughing!

    2. The millions of people who run searches on Google’s engine, thus giving information to Google about their search interest, also with their IP address.

    3. The millions of people using GMail, which openly admits to scanning the contents of sent and received messages for marketing purposes – thus tying #1 and #2 above to a real identity (the IPs you use to your email addresses).

    4. Geolocation of the above data by IP address can also give indication of travel and movement of each user.

    Anyone remember that initiative by Google to listen to your TV by using your PC’s microphone, and targeting ads as a result? I think they dropped that one, but who is the biggest threat to privacy?

  8. I don’t think there is a (serious) privacy issue in project beacon, (like there isn’t one with Gmail for example), the question is more do I seriously want ALL my friends to know which book I bought from Amazon or what colour underwear I ordered from Calvin Klein?

  9. this will soon turn into a high profile facebook revolt, just as it happend in the feeds feature over a year ago. young users are very techsavy and are quick to call foul if they feel their privacy is at risk. i think that’s what has really help facebook grow: ilusion of privacy. i am the type willing to let go of a little privacy in order to say: get better amazon recomendations or movies in netflix. some users don’t feel the same. using the arbirary opt in is probably going to piss a lot of people when the sheet starts to hit the fan, just like woopie said. it’s going to be kind of funny seeing the not so fb savy screw up by sahring the unshareable!!!!

  10. Hmm, seems like a hairy situation. Privacy of one’s users should be priority number one.

    You make a good point, seems like this should be “opt-in”

  11. I think Facebook’s rush to world domination runs the risk of too aggressive, non-consumer friendly things like Social Ads and Beacon. One question a friend of mine asked was what Facebook would do with Beacon-supplied purchasing data that I decided not to include in my feed – do they still retain it? That would suck pretty hugely.

    I put some thinking into what I see as a pro forma solution for policy-based control in a post at:


  12. @Mike Puchol, exactly. Anyone using Google Analytics has tracking information about users that’s being logged. Or Quantcast. Or you name it — there’s no end to JavaScript tracking going on out there. As you say, Om — Facebook will still be able to tie that back to particular profiles, but Microsoft and Yahoo both have ad programs that do the same thing, as well. The only real opt-out is not to take JavaScript.

  13. Just because it’s not obvious, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Google knows more about you than Facebook.

    Beacon will work because kids like to brag about what they bought. If you’re over 24, you might not understand.

  14. Google may have IP addresses but it doesn’t always have names.

    A family of four will all be doing completely different searches from the same IP. Facebook’s user data is pretty awesome.

    The other thing is you might be doing a search for something dodgy on Google and it’s not like Google goes out and tells all your friends about it. Sounds like thats what Facebooks going to do.

    I got to say I would have taken the money if I was that Mark guy. Web 2.0 is about to crash in a major way and with this aggressive new ad push facebook could quickly become another friendster.

    I’m already thinking of ditching my real account accept I want to test out the ad programs first.

  15. I have to believe this will end in lawsuits. This whole system seems incredibly flawed. Facebook as an organisation seems to believe more in profit systems than a good user experience.

  16. Hi Om,

    Let me put this question to you: did Facebook lose its users when it made the newsfeed (or, in this privacy context, the stalkerfeed)? If anything it made people more addicted. I don’t think people will react negatively on the privacy front. What may be an issue is a backlash against unsolicited ads. People avoid clicking ads and feel good about it, so this push strategy may piss some off.

    That all said, my results show better CTR since the change, though it’s still results on my flyers, so IDK if they’ve also been affected.

  17. Great Post OM! We were about to launch development of an small facebook application, now we have scrapped the same.

    I came across several posts like this, when I was browsing a site hosted by Stanford University Class on Facebook study. I accidentally landed on there page, when I was researching on who is using my theme Redie 3.0 :)and that help me to think again.

    No one still sure about the type of information facebook collect? Even though we block the facebook beacon using firefox extension, chances are there if they collect more informations of users from the activity done on machine itself.

    Thanks for this great info.

  18. Here is a quote from Facebook privacy settings which I got when I tried to disable this crap “Please note that these settings only affect notifications on Facebook. You will still be notified on affiliate websites when they send stories to Facebook. You will be able to decline individual stories at that time.” So even though I declined to not have my privacy violated, I still have to put up with these pop up messages?

  19. I have a lot of younger friends on Facebook. I’m almost 40 but my workplace is full of young hip gen Y er’s. You know, young dumb and having fun, naive, but all good kids. I fear some of there lives may be seriously screwed 10 years from now.

  20. I realize I’m a little late to the party, but I just have to say that your reference to the potential, “privacy hairball” is a brilliant use of language. Loved it!


  21. With the amount of traffic flowing through the social networks, it seems almost inevitable that advertisers will try to capitalize on these extraordinary amount of “eyeballs”.
    Privacy on the web may be some what of an illusion.
    It’s more about the use of information

  22. of service providers to make a buck has spawned ever more intrusive ad models (Hello, Beacon!) But while hyper-targeted ads and behavioral advertising raise of service providers to make a buck has spawned ever more intrusive ad models (Hello, Beacon!) But while hyper-targeted ads and behavioral advertising raise d

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  24. If you think Facebook is invading your privacy then think: most users are already in the habit of sharing their personal details and activities with other users on the site by default. You can always opt out by using the Beacon opt-out button, but many Facebook users couldn’t care less.

  25. I agree with Kevin. Since most users do not care about this feature, it should be opt-out. If the feature was opt-in it wouldn’t be effective. At least they are letting the user make a choice.


  26. Great post. I wonder how much user-testing facebook will conduct after seeing the slow decline of MySpace viewership versus Facebook’s! Or will we see a third niche social networking site rise from the many out there that just says ‘no’ to making 1/2 of the social networking site pages ads?

  27. This is a great feature for advertisers, but users may frown upon it a bit. I think advertisers would be better off using an advertising network like Adwido instead where advertisements are sought out and not forced on people.

  28. Look if facebook want to do it or not it’s still going to bring up the same issue as always. We don’t get a say anyway!! and anyway is it really that bad to be getting targeted advertising??? If I’m on facebook and im getting adds about things i actually care about it’s going to make my user experience ( even though im getting sucked into the advertising vortex) a better experience!! as I’m a young guy i dont really want to keep seeing adds about hair loss!!! Some advertising does have value and i would prefer the value to be targeted to me.

  29. Facebook does not give 2nd chance to their subscribers when they disabled the accounts.. thats my concerns because they disabled it without any reasons.. they are more than a God who does not care for the feelings of their subscriber whom they got their Living……………..

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